The rapidly rising number of students played a role, but also the use of NPO funding to tackle Covid delays among students. “We then said to each other: this can’t continue. These lecturers are not just for peak times and illnesses. If they are such a key part of the University of Amsterdam staff, you need to have a decent personnel policy. And I openly admit, that didn’t exist.”

Trade unions and lobbyists have been campaigning for years for a reduction in the number of temporary contracts. The step taken by the University of Amsterdam may have important consequences nationally. At the University of Amsterdam, the number of temporary lecturers is relatively low compared with other universities.

Regular employment

Within a week, Ten Dam hopes to reach agreement with the trade unions and the works council about “a socially solid, modern lecturers’ policy”. Starting lecturers with no research tasks will be appointed for four years, as is the case now with postdocs and PhD candidates. They will be given regular employment of four or five days a week, unless they themselves wish to work less.

They do not give lectures but supervise seminars and are not required to develop new education or perform coordinating tasks. Lecturers who already do that will be given a permanent contract. “That sounds very obvious,” says Ten Dam, “but having checked stories deep down in the institution, that is certainly not always the case. We must do better.”

Further investigation not required

HR director Robert Grem estimates that half of the lecturers without research tasks at the University of Amsterdam have a starters job for four years and the other half have a permanent contract. The new policy is not expected to lead to significant extra costs.

With this initiative, the University of Amsterdam is leading the way. In the new collective labour agreement, there are no proposals to offer career prospects to temporary lecturers. However, “a joint study” has been announced into how the contractual position of lecturers can be improved in the next collective labour agreement period.

Ten Dam: “In fact, that study is redundant. This autumn, we have decided that we need to implement the improvements sooner. And nothing prevents us from doing that now. As the University of Amsterdam, we feel we have an obligation to our staff to do so.”

Last week, Ten Dam did what he promised. A full-page personnel advertisement in which the humanities faculty advertised for 15 temporary lecturers was withdrawn on her initiative. “As the board, we are setting the goalposts. The faculty policy cannot be contrary to what we agree as an employer. That sometimes creates unrest in the organisation, but that’s just how it is.”

Marking strike

Did the marking strike started by lecturers from campaign group Casual in April play a role in that? “We’ve been looking at this since October,” says Ten Dam, “but pressure from Casual did seriously fan the debate at the University of Amsterdam, which is also good.”

The students must not be disadvantaged by the strike. “We are monitoring that and fortunately, the striking lecturers also feel responsible. We assume that Casual will resume work once we have agreement with the local trade unions,” says Ten Dam.

Whether that will happen is not yet certain. According to Casual UvA, four-year contracts are still temporary contracts for structural work.

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